It looked like so many Eastern Conference playoff games that had come before: One team had LeBron James and the other team did not.
But on Friday night, the Indiana Pacers had Bojan Bogdanovic and the Cleveland Cavaliers did not.
Bogdanovic poured in a season-high 30 points — including 15 in the fourth quarter — on seven threes, and the Indiana Pacers overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to pull off a stunning 92-90 victory and give them a 2-1 series lead.
Midway through the fourth, Bogdanovic began to take over. He hit a three to cut the deficit to two at 75-73, and a few minutes later, with things tied at 77, he hit another three through a foul then made the free throw to make it 81-77, the first Indiana lead since early in the first quarter. The Croatian national then hit another three in transition to make it 84-77 and turn Bankers Life Fieldhouse into a madhouse. To that point, Cleveland had only scored 20 points in roughly 20 minutes of second-half basketball.
James wasn’t about to let his team go quietly, though, hitting a couple of pull-up threes and a free throw to bring things even at 84, a shocking individual run. The King, it seemed, was taking over.
But his team had no answer for the man they call “Bogey.”
Bogdanovic picked up a low pass and drove in for a short bank shot, then nailed a 30-footer with the shot clock expiring to make it 89-84. A Thaddeus Young layup made it 91-84 — and seemingly out of reach — but James and Kevin Love both nailed heavily contested threes to make it 91-90. After Darren Collison knocked down one of two free throws, J.R. Smith missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer, allowing the Pacers faithful to finally exhale and giving Indiana the series lead.
During the opening half, the Cavaliers produced some of their best basketball of the year. The visitors got out of the gates strong, outpacing Indiana 31-20 in the first quarter, with former Pacer George Hill leading the way with nine points. James’ much-maligned supporting cast was terrific on both ends, going 8 for 12 from the field for 23 points combined and playing alert, active defense. The Pacers, one of the league’s best groups when it comes to taking care of the ball, had seven turnovers in the first 12 minutes.
Thanks to the strong efforts of the supporting cast, the Cavaliers were able to sit James for over six minutes, and when he returned, the hosts had only managed to cut the lead by one, 44-34. With James back in, Cleveland finished the half on a 13-6 run to take a 57-40 lead into the break. The Cavaliers were remarkably efficient on both ends, forcing 12 Indiana turnovers and posting a 12:6 assist-to-turnover ratio on the other end. Victor Oladipo in particular struggled with the Cavaliers, who decided to aggressively attack perimeter screens, and had nearly as many turnovers (four) as points (five) after the opening half.
But the Pacers refused to go away, and they got back into the game on the back of their defense. Oladipo capitalized on a lazy turnover from James and scored in transition to cut the deficit to seven, making the score the closest it had been since the first quarter and sending the home crowd into a frenzy. The hosts forced Cleveland into more turnovers (seven) than made shots (five), and won the third quarter 23-12. They trailed 69-63 heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when Bogdanovic took over, two days after his 29th birthday. The journeyman was simply lethal down the stretch, and Indiana was able to hold on. Oladipo finished with 18 after his rough first half, and Young pitched in 12. It’s Cleveland’s first loss when leading after the third quarter this season. The Cavaliers scored just 33 points in the second half, and they’ll now have to find a way to respond in a crucial Game 4 on Sunday night.